Whilst many schools only teach the tai chi hand form for its renowned health benefits, the system is incomplete without the teachings of all of the following components:
Of the five components, the hand form is the most familiar. However, knowledge of the hand form only is insufficient for a comprehensive understanding of Tai Chi Chuan in its entirety.
There are two stages to learning the hand form. The first stage is known as the square form where the movements are learnt in a simplified and sequential manner. Only after the student has gained an adequate understanding of this simplified method, will they be allowed to move on to the more intricately demanding round form, which consists of the same movements as the square form, but is now performed in a more free-flowing and circular manner. The square form is comparable to writing in block letters whereas the round form is comparable to cursive script.
The movements of the hand form follow a set sequence which all have a self-defence application. Through the slow and gentle practice of the hand form whilst concentrating on the movements the resulting benefit will be tranquillity of mind, relaxation of body and improved respiration to name but a few. See In Pursuit of a Good Handform for more information.
The purpose of pushing hands is to help train us in methods of applying techniques to destroy our opponent's equilibrium, increase our sensitivity and also to improve our reactions. Practice of pushing hands is a vital component in the practice of the self-defence techniques of Tai Chi Chuan.
After a certain standard has been achieved in pushing hands, we can then begin to learn the self-defence techniques. Students will find the martial application of techniques applied here much different to the way they are performed in the hand form.
This is because the martial movements have been modified for performance in the hand form. It is imperative that we practise with a partner if we are to develop our ability to use these techniques defensively and effectively. The more realistic our practice the more able we will be in a real situation to defend ourselves decisively.
The three weapons used in Tai Chi Chuan are the Sabre, the Straight Sword and the Spear.
They are taught usually after a fair degree of proficiency has been reached in the hand form, pushing hands and techniques of self-defence. Training these three weapons affords the body an additional depth of benefit beyond what is achieved by training of hand form alone.
Internal strength can be described as meditation combined with exercise. Though we are concentrating on maintaining a tranquil state of mind, we are at the same time holding set postures or repeating set movements which are designed to increase our health and strength and to give us a well coordinated body that is full of energy.
The internal strength (Nei Gung) consists of twenty four exercises, twelve yin and twelve complimentary yang. They have therapeutic, meditative, body conditioning and self-defence benefits. In many ways the internal strength exercises are a more effective and demanding type of training, more so than the hand form.